The Powerless Panacea of Politics

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2009
We need to be concerned about the mindset that makes political and social activism the primary business of Christianity and reduces the cause of Christ to just another political force. This unbiblical mindset has inflicted serious harm on the cause of Christ.


We must do God’s will, God’s way, for God’s glory!

Is Obama a political messiah? Is politics a panacea for our pressing problems? We need to be concerned about the mindset that makes political and social activism the primary business of Christianity and reduces the cause of Christ to just another political force. This unbiblical mindset has inflicted serious harm on the cause of Christ.

Here are four negative consequences of this unbiblical mindset:

  1. By looking to the government to reform society by Christian values, we denigrate God’s sovereignty and providence over human history and events. Do we believe that God has lost control and we have to get it back for Him? Christians need to be committed to do God’s will, God’s way, for God’s glory!
  2. By seeking to uphold biblical values through secular means are we attempting to do God’s will our way rather than God’s way. The Church is the agent of God’s grace not the state. (The state or the civil authorities is primarily an agent of God’s justice.) One of the irrational fears of secular folk is that we will force our Christian values on them. What is needed is spiritual persuasion not social pressure or political coercion. As Paul said, the weapons of our warfare are spiritual, not carnal (2 Cor.10:4-5).
  3. By trying to establish Christian values through secular methods, we risk creating a false sense of morality. Everyone knows that you can’t legislate biblical morality. Such an effort would be inconsistent with and counterproductive to the gospel. Biblical morality is a good thing but it is no substitute for regeneration which leads to spiritual transformation.
  4. If we make political and social activism our priority we are viewed as rabble rousers and malcontents and we foster hostility toward unbelievers that alienates them from us. We need to grasp the fact that the battle is spiritual and the real enemy is Satan. Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The world is sinful, our culture is sinful but we shouldn’t be surprised at its sinfulness. How else could sinners act? They are blinded by the powers of darkness and have no spiritual discernment. That’s why it’s foolish to expect human institutions the produce the kind of righteousness and justice that only God can bring about through the gospel. It’s simply not realistic for us to expect the government to enforce godly living standards.

We must do God’s will, God’s way: through godly thinking, values, character/conduct. In a spiritual battle, we must use the spiritual weapon – the sword of the Spirit – divine truth.

Jesus told Pilate that He came into the world to “bear witness to the truth” (John18:33, 36-37). We should do the same. He said, “As the Father has sent me, even so, send I you.” Our main problem in a pagan culture is not our political but our spiritual convictions.

Government cannot save us because only God can bring about spiritual transformation. Only as we focus on our ultimate destination will we be motivated to share the gospel. America can only be returned to God through His Word and Spirit mediated through us. Only the gospel has the power needed to bring about permanent and positive change.

I. Once Upon a Time Over a Half A Century Ago…

Once upon a time most people could recite the Ten Commandments; today they can’t.

Once upon a time people would leave to houses unlocked and their keys in their cars.

Once upon a time there was very little drug abuse along with the associated crime.

Once upon a time (not so long ago – in my lifetime) respectable citizens uniformly disapproved of homosexuality, adultery, and divorce; believed sexual promiscuity was absolutely wrong; disdained cursing or obscene language; saw abortion as unthinkable and automatically held public officials to high moral and ethical standards.

But today, many citizens view these issues as acceptable or at least inconsequential. How times – and the culture – have changed. The Christian influence and the biblical standards that shaped Western culture and American society through the end of the 19th century have given way to secular humanism, practical atheism and moral relativism. The vestiges of Christianity in our culture are weak and compromised and to an increasingly pagan society they appear cultic and a little bizarre.

In the United States, political leaders and legislative bodies and courts during the last fifty years have adopted mainly through laws and judicial rulings, a distinctively anti-Christian attitude and agenda. Under the guise of a strict separation of church and state, equal rights, political correctness, moral relativism and tolerance the country has substituted the worldview of secular humanism for the Christian or biblical worldview. Evangelical Christians are understandably alarmed and deeply sadden at what has occurred and what is taking place in contemporary American culture:

  1. Public institutions and some states now sanction homosexuality/same sex marriages.
  2. Legal abortion is an acceptable view supported by the U. S. Supreme Court.
  3. Public schools and government agencies now promote promiscuity among teens.
  4. The rights of criminals seem to take precedence over the rights of their victims.
  5. Pornography under the guise of freedom of speech is pervasive in the culture.

To make matter worse, the hard earned tax dollars of god-fearing Christians partially fund such ungodly ideas and practices. What Bible-believing Christian wants to see their hard earned tax dollars going to abort living human persons out of a mother’s womb?

During the last 25 years a number have well meaning Christians have founded and funded many organizations which were designed to counteract the secular undermining of American culture. Sadly, some of these people have used worldly tactics like their unbelieving opponents. The result has been that some believers have become antagonistic toward the very people they were trying to reach for Christ and the unbelievers have become increasingly antagonistic to Christians as well. Is there a better way today?

II. What Can We Learn From History?

There is no denying the historical precedent for political/social activism by Christians. We get into trouble every time we try and use secular means for spiritual objectives. Christianity should never be promoted or propagated except by example and persuasion. We should never use manipulation, force, coercion or any other secular/unethical method.

Over the past several centuries, people have mistakenly linked democracy and political freedom to Christianity. The Christian faith is based on the gospel of Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture. The United States was founded as a constitutional Republic. Democracy is not the same as a Republic – a government based on God’s moral law. Political freedom is not the same as moral freedom – the power to do what you ought.

We must not become enemies of the very people we are seeking to reach for Christ. We should not become enamored with temporal values at the expense of eternal values. Evangelicals must not make the same mistake as liberals – confusing social causes with spiritual causes and secular (unbiblical) methods with spiritual (biblical) methods.

The most ideal human government can do nothing to advance God’s Kingdom. The most tyrannical government cannot stop the spread of God’s Word and Spirit.

III. What Can We Learn From Scripture?

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).

A certain amount of healthy and balanced concern about current trends in government and the community is acceptable, as long as we realize that such interest is not vital to our spiritual lives, our righteous testimony or the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ.

The believer’s political involvement should never displace the priority of growing as a disciple and making disciples because the morality and righteousness that God seeks is the result of salvation and sanctification not legislation or governmental decision/action.

On one hand, we should never expect the government to do what God’s expects us to do. On the other, we have every right to expect of government not to interfere in our work. That, after all, is what the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution is all about! The misinterpretation of the first amendment to the Constitution by the Supreme Court has resulted in the government unduly interfering in what God expects of the church.

Regardless of the numerous immoral, unjust, and ungodly failures of secular government, believers are to follow the example of Jesus by praying and seeking to influence the world by godly, selfless, and peaceful living under that authority, not by protests against the government or acts of civil disobedience (except in the most extreme cases). The power to bring about righteousness in this country does not now and will never reside in public office. The political arena has no power to bring about the spiritual transformation that our society that is so desperately needed, but the gospel can!

I’m not suggesting they we should remove ourselves from the political process. As Christians, we are to be good citizens and exercise our civic responsibilities. We have a right to be concerned with the anti-Christian, morally debauched culture we live in and we long to see our nation return to the biblical standard. However, we should never be surprised when non-Christians act like non-Christians.

The greatest temporal good can’t compare to the eternal work of God’s Spirit. We are called to be a kingdom of priests not a kingdom of political activists (1 Pet. 2:9). Jesus said that His Kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus lived in the world – in a corrupt pagan society – but He was not of the world.

As you read the Gospels, ask yourself, how political was Jesus? Our Lord did not come as a military conqueror, a political deliver or social reformer. Many of His followers expected Him to free them from Rome’s oppressive rule.

Jesus did not come to capture the culture although He called His followers to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The message Christ proclaimed was not one of political, economic or social reform. He proclaimed radical spiritual transformation!

He commanded us to continue the ministry that He began (John 20:21). In John 17:15, Jesus said: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

IV. What Is the True Nature of the Real Battle?

No matter how sincere, we can’t expand the Kingdom of God by political activism. Paul says that we are in a spiritual battle engaged in spiritual warfare but he goes on to say that our weapons are not carnal (the way of the world) but spiritual.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5: For though we live in the world, we don’t wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with aren’t the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God; we take captive every thought to make it obey Christ.

We must reject all that is ungodly and false and never compromise God’s standards. But, if we do not evangelize and make disciples, nothing else we do for people, no matter how beneficial, is of any eternal consequence. Our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor.15:58).

John Seel summed up the believer’s perspective on political involvement:

A politicized faith not only blurs our priorities, but weakens our loyalties. Our primary citizenship is not on earth but in heaven…. Though few evangelicals would deny this truth in theory, the language of our spiritual citizenship frequently gets wrapped in the red, white and blue. Rather than acting as resident aliens of a heavenly Kingdom, too often to sound like resident apologists for a Christian America…. Unless we reject the false reliance on the illusion of Christian America, evangelicalism will continue to distort the gospel and thwart a genuine biblical identity. American evangelicalism is now covered by layers and layers of historically shaped attitudes that obscure our original biblical core.”

Paul was crystal clear in Romans 1:16-17 that the gospel, not the government, “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last….

Only the gospel provides the power for personal, positive, permanent transformation! The government cannot save you, but Christ can and will if we place our faith in Him!

As we exhibit godly character and godly living, we will be the conscience of the nation in which we reside and as we share the gospel of Christ we will be agents of God’s grace. We are to confront the world with the spiritual weapon of God’s Word and not with worldly wisdom or social or political activism.

Why can’t government save us? Because only the gospel (Good News) of the grace of God can rescue sinners from sin, death and hell.

[Credit to: Why Government Can’t Save You by John MacArthur]

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